Cold Call Alternatives

Lead generation and sales prospecting techniques. Tips and ideas for finding sales leads through referrals, introductions, and business networking.

Your stock of sales leads has run dry. Your pipeline is following suit fast. It won't be long before you are at the bottom of the league. It doesn't take long to fall from grace. You know it, your boss knows it, and so does her boss. Ifonlyi'd . . . forget self recrimination.

When politicians find themselves in a hole, they say something like, “things are what they are, we have to deal with the circumstances and improve things for the future. Well politicians have that luxury. Election Day may be a while away. A salesperson is only as good as his or her last result and employers have short memories.

Perhaps for you, things haven’t gone pear shaped before and you are reading along just for the ride. I hope you never find yourself with no other option but cold calling for lead generation. No matter how impenetrable your titanium shell, customers can still hear the tremor of desperation in your voice. Then things go from bad to worse. Sales prospecting demands courage.

Maybe there is a better way or at least, a more palatable alternative to endless cold telephone calls.

As you might expect, research indicates that decision makers are most likely to agree to meet salespeople when a trusted colleague, team member, or senior executive recommends that they do.

The same research suggests that the next best way in is to get a similarly warm introduction from the outside contacts of those with buying power. These include consultants, business partners, customers, and suppliers. A complete list must include friends and family.

Getting a genuine recommendation is no easy task. It is a topic I have written about before. See 'Get Introductions from People you Don't Know' for help.

This article offers some ideas about using the third most effective way of having buyers grant you a hearing, meeting them at offsite events.

First, avoid the most common mistake. Whatever you do when meeting prospects informally, do not sell. Do not use your elevator pitch. Do not be tempted to speak of what you do except to the minimum degree necessary to satisfy polite enquiry.

It is possible that some of those you meet might be bored enough to lure you into a work discussion. It is good to let them talk. Encourage it, even if their discourse is boring. It is good to talk. Be interested, be very interested. Dale Carnegie wrote, “if you want to be interesting, be interested”. No matter how one sided the conversation, resist the urge to present your wares. Be polite and very brief about your stuff.

Listening is something we can all improve. I can think of several occasions when my listening patience wasn't good enough. The lessons were almost always expensive.

If you are drawn into speaking about your products or services in any detail while at a social event, you lessen your chances of an audience later. Maintain some mystery at all costs. If someone is insistent, make an appointment there and then for a formal business meeting.

The great thing about meeting executives informally is that, on average, they will be eleven times more likely to take your call afterwards. If you don't believe this multiplier, ask the senior executives you know for an opinion on the matter. I have made a habit of asking senior executives for their opinion about good and bad selling practices.

I am backing through this topic, dealing with last things first. We have yet to discuss how to be at the right events and ways to initiate a dialogue.

Communication is a big topic. When I entered “better conversation” into Google (with the quotes) I found 57,200 references. Rather than try and distil the wisdom of several million words, I'll offer you the all time top three.

They are forethought, planning, and preparation. Just be informed enough to ask good questions. Ask questions about anything that won't offend. Religion and politics should be treated carefully because they often provoke controversy.

Find some topics you can ask people's opinion about without first disclosing yours. Think of some topics to speak about with humour. Self effacing humour is always good but don't overdo it. Jokes are fine if they are topical or relevant to the event and you are certain of a good response. You don't need a lot of material because it is in your interests to do most of the listening. People like to talk, particularly when they feel relaxed and like the company. Hone up your rapport building skills in preparation.

The best way to get a dialogue started is to be introduced and then ask an interesting question. “A mind that expands to accommodate a new thought, never returns to its original shape” according to Edward De Bono. Ask a question that demands a thoughtful answer or at least, some original thought.

You may not have the good fortune of knowing someone who knows the person you want to meet. Just ask anyone who does. If is usually quite easy to make new contacts at informal business gatherings. Pick someone on the periphery of the group and introduce yourself. Build rapport while making small talk and then quickly own up to your true purpose and make an honest plea for help.

People like to say yes, especially when they are in a good mood, being entertained at an interesting social or sporting event. You know how to make the right kind of plea; you've seen it in the movies.

I’ve saved the hardest part till last. You need to be at the right events and often in the right hospitality tent. The alternative is to do your research.

If you can find out about an individuals social habits, what clubs and associations he or she belongs to, what causes gain their support, which golf or tennis club is favoured, then arrange to be their at the same time. All you need is a minute of conversation.

Recognise the person by saying, "aren't you . . ." and then briefly explain how you know of them. For non celebrities, this is very flattering and is certain to cause them remember the encounter.

Too much effort for lead generation? Quite possibly.

Instead, find out which professional associations, institutes, networking clubs, or user groups a person attends. Such meetings are generally business orientated and may be easier to access. Success demands patience, diligence, and sometimes a generous expense account.

This sales prospecting approach may still seem too difficult. Real life takes place at a slower pace than in the movies.

There is a short cut. It involves inviting those you want to meet to a social or business event that captures the their interest. Alternatively, obtain an invitation to events that those you want to meet are expected to attend.

There are other reasons for investing in corporate entertainment. There is the element of sponsorship and visibility of company pennants. They can communicate ‘thank you for your business’ and ‘you are very important to us’ messages. Some of the value is lost if staff don't take full advantage of events to earn the right of access to decision makers.

As Plato is credited with saying, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

Maybe cold calling isn't so bad after all! At least it is immediately accessible and you might get away with less forethought, planning, and preparation.

Related items:

  • When you Hate Cold Calling
  • 'Get Introductions from People you Don't Know'
  • Article by Clive Miller

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